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Surprising Science

“T-Ray” Vision Made Portable

Like X-rays, terahertz frequencies see through items, but most machines that use them are large and costly. Two engineers have found a way to shrink the technology onto a chip.

What’s the Latest Development?

CalTech engineers Ali Hajimiri and Kaushik Sengupta have created a microchip that can broadcast and receive terahertz radiation. These frequencies, which falls between X-rays and high-frequency radio on the wave spectrum, can see through solids, just like X-rays. Unlike X-rays, they can also see through water and other less dense materials, and can even determine whether an embedded object is made of plastic or metal. The microchip works through the use of several transistors operating at the same time and in a synchronized manner, allowing reinforcement of some frequencies and cancellation of others.

What’s the Big Idea?

Machines that incorporate “T-ray” technology are increasingly being found in security and law enforcement. They tend to be large and expensive, and even portable versions are about the size of a television camera. Putting the technology on a microchip enables the creation of handheld devices, including smartphones, that can scan objects faster and more easily. The chip can also be used in data transmission: Because its frequency is higher than that of wi-fi, more information can be sent at once, which could allow for quicker downloads.

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